CLAREMORE — The NCAA has statistics on just about everything. One of the statistics states that for every athlete that plays college athletics, they bring an average of 4.1 more students to college with them ... students who pay their own way.
That turned on a light bulb over the head of Rogers State University Athletic Director Chris Ratcliff.
“We were looking at enrollment and how we can help,” Ratcliff said. “You can do it through sports and adding teams. A lot of these sports can pay for themselves.”
Those sports being considered are volleyball, tennis and women’s lacrosse.
The lacrosse idea can happen fairly quickly.
“Lacrosse might be quicker if we do it right,” Ratcliff said. “The only thing that is preventing us now is locker room space and coaches offices. If you want to add anything, you want to do it correctly.”
But why just women’s lacrosse? Is it a Title IX problem?
“It’s not Title IX,” Ratcliff said. “Women’s lacrosse is gaining in popularity in the midwest and it’s growing. Title IX does not come into it. We could probably add men’s lacrosse, but women’s lacrosse is growing.”
Another problem Ratcliff must consider? The Heartland Conference, or RSU’s inclusion next season in the Lone Star Conference ... neither conference sponsors lacrosse.
“The sport is sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in Colorado,” Ratcliff said. “But the sport would add 32 people ... that’s a lot of kids.”
At least lacrosse would have an immediate facility, as it would play its games on the soccer field. The other sports, however, will need some planning and building.
Like volleyball. Right now, Ratcliff must overcome many hurdles to add volleyball to the school’s athletic list.
For one, the Expo Center, where the Hillcats play basketball, has a scoreboard that is one foot too low to play volleyball. Bushyhead Gymnasium on the campus of RSU has a ceiling one foot too low.
So in order to add volleyball, Ratcliff would need to buy a new scoreboard for the Expo. But first, he would need to renegotiate a new deal with the Expo. It could get tricky.
“We’re have to renegotiate with the Expo for a couple more months,” Ratcliff said. “Currently, we have a contract with the Expo that runs from October to March.”
So Ratcliff figures why buy a scoreboard before a new contract is drawn?
“All that is moot if we can’t get the gym,” Ratcliff said. “I met with (Expo Director) Tonya (Andrews) and asked what was the possibility. I think they might have some plans at the Expo down the road.”
Another hurdle — Ratcliff said the fair has the Expo for 11 days, which could clash with a volleyball schedule. So there are a lot of wrinkles that need ironed before volleyball is added. And even more than that.
“If you add the sport, you will have to hire a coach, and then recruit and get a schedule,” Ratcliff said. “We’re still three to five years down the road.”
But the addition of volleyball could have a big upside, since a volleyball teams carries around 16 to 18 players on the roster.
“When a kid goes to college, they bring a significant other, boyfriend or girlfriend from high school,” Ratcliff said. “They’re bringing a friend who just wants to get out of that area, who might not know anything about Rogers but his friend is going there, or you bring a brother or sister. We can increase enrollment and it’s cost effective. It will actually pay for itself.”
How can adding athletes pay for itself?
“If you have eight girls on the roster on full scholarship, then eight girls are paying their own way,” Ratcliff explained. “That’s $17,000. Our athletes stay on campus, so they pay for tuition, dorm, meal plans.”
Tennis is another sport than can be added fairly quickly. Since the school owns the land between the campus at Diamond Sports Complex, a tennis facility is needed before things can start moving.
“We’re trying to design and get a master plan for athletics that is downscale from several years ago,” Ratcliff said. “We’re looking at a tennis facility and an indoor facility for baseball, softball and golf. We want to upgrade the low-hanging fruit, like upgrade the Expo, bleachers, score tables ... things that they can do to upgrade things.”
Rogers State is the only school in this year’s Heartland Conference and next year’s Lone Star Conference without a volleyball team.
Unfortunately, one of the last things that will be added is a gymnasium. The school will have to raise money for the facility, but with the current state budget climate, going forward is not a good idea. And the school needs so much more first.
“Right now, we can’t do a bond issue,” Ratcliff said. “Right now we have other priorities — getting the university budget straight, get the office off furloughs, build a science center. The gym is way down the road.”
The going may be slow, but Ratcliff and his staff have jumped a lot of hurdles in the past few years regarding budgets. So the next set of hurdles should be no problem for the athletic department.
Athletic expansion is the likely path to added enrollment at RSU. How to get there is Ratcliff’s problem to solve. But he is determined to get it done.
“Before you start a long-term plan, you have to make sure things are in order,” he said. “It was all about starting a conversation about down the road and how we can help enrollment.”